YA Book Reviews

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1) by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1) by Neal Shusterman

Release date: November 22nd, 2016

Genre: Young Adult – Science Fiction > Dystopia

Verdict: ☆☆☆☆☆

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

In the year 2042, two important changes in everyday life happened: first, we conquered death, and the realm of possibility became infinite for all people all over the world. Second, “the cloud” became “the Thunderhead,” an AI that took all of our stored documents, photographs, and memories, and evolved into the perfect stream of consciousness: incorruptible, an algorithm of all human knowledge better suited to determining our needs than we are. In this future, centuries later (although by this point most people have stopped counting the years) the Thunderhead controls government, calmly and logically commanding the entire globe…aside from one specific group of people: the Scythedom.

The Scythedom was created after people realized that we did indeed need some form of population control. However, this was the one thing kept separate from the Thunderhead, after people determined that taking a life was a human responsibility. The Thunderhead now goes nowhere near the Scythes, leaving it up to them to mandate the best way to deliver death to those who must die. The original Scythes created ten rules that the entire Scythedom around the world must follow, and it is from the journal entries of Honorable Scythe Curie that the readers (in between chapters) discover these rules and other insights into the utopian society of the future.

The Scythe Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt kill.
  2. Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought.
  3. Thou shalt grant an annum of immunity to the beloved of those who accept your coming, and to anyone else you deem worthy.
  4. Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist.
  5. Thou shalt serve humanity for the full span of thy days, and thy family shall have immunity as recompense for as long as you live. 
  6. Thou shalt lead an exemplary life in word and deed, and keep a journal of each and every day. 
  7. Thou shalt kill no scythe beyond thyself. 
  8. Thou shalt claim no earthly possessions, save thy robes, ring, and journal.
  9. Thou shalt have neither spouse nor spawn.
  10. Thou shalt be beholden to no laws beyond these. 

The story itself is divided between two teenagers who both separately come in contact with Scythe Faraday when someone they know is “gleaned.” He takes an interest in them both when they exhibit honesty and compassion in front of him, characteristics he believes are important when choosing new Scythes, but the most important characteristic to him is the fact neither of them would choose to become a Scythe. Obviously death is a crucial component to living in any society, and more Scythes are needed to circumvent overcrowding as the population continues to grow; however, Citra and Rowan each learn that there is a huge distinction between being the Reaper and being a cold-blooded killer.

I am absolutely blown away by how well the novel came together. The pacing was flawless, with a perfect balance of information and action that kept the story moving without moving too fast or stalling around intense scenes. The character growth shocked me for how realistic and honest to the heart of the main protagonists it was. Even the secondary characters were fully realized and unique, and did more than just keep the story moving or compliment the MCs as foils or plot devices. The structure and world building? Just right, and with room for improvement and further development! I think this was in large part due to using the journal entries before each chapter as a map for what the world is like in this alternate future, as well as integrating important information about global society into common interactions so it wasn’t so much “here is an explanation!” but rather seamlessly fit into the narrative for easy storytelling. The story itself was a masterpiece of clever and wicked thinking, a masterful writing style, thought-provoking passages, and point-of-views that only added to the overall depth of the book as a whole.

Truthfully, I’m floored. The twists and surprises caught me off guard at the best times, and didn’t force me to suspend my disbelief or confuse me. I was genuinely invested in all the characters and their backgrounds and goals. All of my burning questions got answered, so I can’t even complain about plot holes. I know there must be something to complain about somewhere in here, but honestly, whatever it could be is absolutely eclipsed by everything that makes this book so good. Who knew my first book for 2017 would be one of the toughest contenders for best book of the year I’ve ever seen? Seriously, I cannot recommend Scythe enough. A total must-read for fans of science fiction who are looking for a new classic to pick up.

Recommended for: Fans of Red RisingReady Player One.


Have you had a chance to read this yet? What did you think? Do you agree with my points? Let me know in the comments below! Happy blogging! 

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13 thoughts on “Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1) by Neal Shusterman

  1. I saw another review for this book a little while back and was certainly interested in the concept of this book. A world where death has been conquered and where murder is legal so to say sounds like a world I am interested in reading about; and your review has convinced me I need to get my hands on this book soon. Plus I love Red Rising so hopefully this will be a book I enjoy as much as you did (I’m definitely a sci-fi fan looking for a new classic to pick up!) 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Overdrive app is going to take this one back from me, but I love Schusterman’s work so much that I’m going to order it from Amazon with my Amazon gift card. It was too awesome, at least what I had read so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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